A value-added tax (VAT) is a type of tax that is collected incrementally, based on the increase in value of a product or service at each stage of production or distribution. It is called as Goods & Services Tax (GST) in some countries. VAT is usually implemented as a destination-based tax, where the tax rate is based on the location of the customer. VATs raise about a fifth of total tax revenues worldwide. As of 2018, 166 of the world’s approximately 193 countries employ a VAT, including all OECD members except the United States, which uses a sales tax system instead.
Germany and France were the first countries to implement VAT, doing so in the form of a general consumption tax during World War I.
There are two main methods of calculating VAT: the credit-invoice or invoice-based method, and the subtraction or accounts-based method. Using the credit-invoice method, sales transactions are taxed, with the customer informed of the VAT on the transaction, and businesses may receive a credit for VAT paid on input materials and services. The credit-invoice method is the most widely employed method, used by all national VATs except for Japan. Using the subtraction method, at the end of a reporting period, a business calculates the value of all taxable sales then subtracts the sum of all taxable purchases and the VAT rate is applied to the difference. The subtraction method VAT is currently only used by Japan, although subtraction method VATs, often using the name “flat tax”, have been part of many recent tax reform proposals by US politicians. With both methods, there are exceptions in the calculation method for certain goods and transactions, created for either pragmatic collection reasons or to counter tax fraud and evasion.
The standard way to implement a value-added tax involves assuming a business owes some fraction on the price of the product minus all taxes previously paid on the good.
By the method of collection, VAT can be accounts-based or invoice-based. Under the invoice method of collection, each seller charges VAT rate on his output and passes the buyer a special invoice that indicates the amount of tax charged. Buyers who are subject to VAT on their own sales (output tax) consider the tax on the purchase invoices as input tax and can deduct the sum from their own VAT liability. The difference between output tax and input tax is paid to the government (or a refund is claimed, in the case of negative liability). Under the accounts based method, no such specific invoices are used. Instead, the tax is calculated on the value added, measured as a difference between revenues and allowable purchases. Most countries today use the invoice method, the only exception being Japan, which uses the accounts method.
By the timing of collection, VAT (as well as accounting in general) can be either accrual or cash based. Cash basis accounting is a very simple form of accounting. When a payment is received for the sale of goods or services, a deposit is made, and the revenue is recorded as of the date of the receipt of funds—no matter when the sale had been made. Cheques are written when funds are available to pay bills, and the expense is recorded as of the cheque date—regardless of when the expense had been incurred. The primary focus is on the amount of cash in the bank, and the secondary focus is on making sure all bills are paid. Little effort is made to match revenues to the time period in which they are earned, or to match expenses to the time period in which they are incurred. Accrual basis accounting matches revenues to the time period in which they are earned and matches expenses to the time period in which they are incurred. While it is more complex than cash basis accounting, it provides much more information about your business. The accrual basis allows you to track receivables (amounts due from customers on credit sales) and payables (amounts due to vendors on credit purchases). The accrual basis allows you to match revenues to the expenses incurred in earning them, giving you more meaningful financial reports.
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